Thank you to writing buddy and Photoshop whiz Bonnie Eaton, aka B.J. Myrick, for creating my historical research graphic. I supplied the list of resources, and she put them together with a picture of me hard at work. Bonnie knows what is involved in research as she has her own historical novel, Nelly of No Man’s Land.
The Library Book Collection: My First Research Stop
Once I settled on the Battle of Mine Creek, my first stop was the Emporia Public Library to see what it had on the topic. Out of a half dozen books that looked promising, I found They Deserved a Better Fate by Roy Bird to be particularly helpful as it sparked the idea for the main character and part of the plot. Learning that the Confederates had taken prisoners at the Battle of the Blue near Westport and marched south with Price’s wagon train past Mine Creek all the way to Newtonia before being set free, I knew that Hiram Pierce would be my main character and that he would be one of those prisoners. In previous Pierce saga novels, we’ve seen Hiram’s dark side. Will being a prisoner of war change him? If so, how? All of that is still to be determined as I delve into Hiram’s character, his motives for voluntarily joining the militia, and the conditions of his capture and time as a prisoner.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I have begun the revision of For Want of a Father, this year’s NaNo novel. Scenes are outlined through page 100. I have made notes on needed changes using the CASTS system I learned from Nancy Pickard at a workshop several years ago. The CASTS system involves looking at each scene and checking for Conflict, Action, Suspense, Turn, and Sensory. You can read more about CASTS at Writer Unboxed or watch Libby Hellmann’s video explaining the system on her site. However, I’m tired of outlining. I want to get to work on the actual draft. Therefore, I am attacking the first chapter and point of view.
Point of view
There are two point of view characters in the novel: those of sisters Cordelia, 17, and Lucy, 13. I would tell you more, but that might color your judgment of which would be the better beginning. There will be a poll at the end, so please vote for the beginning you believe is more effective.
Chapter 1: Lucy’s POV
I hovered around the hotel check-in desk, waiting for Cordelia to do her job and sort the mail. She knew I was expecting my weekly letter from my brother Ambrose, but she always made me wait, sorting through every piece: the regular boarders’, Grandma’s, Aunt Hannah’s, and business mail addressed to the hotel before handing me my letter. She was being spiteful because Ambrose addressed the letter to me instead of her.
I whisked my feather duster over knickknacks that lined shelves along the walls, sneaking looks at her as she put letters in piles and slid some into the row of cubbyholes behind the desk.
She stopped, frowned, and lifted a small, letter-sized package about a half-inch thick.
“For you, Lucy,” she said, holding out the small parcel to me.
I dropped the duster on the desk, hurried across the room, and seized the package, glancing at the return address. “It’s from Ambrose.” My fingernails clawed at the tightly sealed package. When at last I worked through the outer paper, something fell and thumped on the floor. I picked it up. “A twenty dollar gold piece!”
I unfolded the letter and scanned it. “Pa wants me home. I’m to go on the next stage. This money is for my fare and anything else I need. I’m going home!” My deepest wish had come true at last, and I wasn’t going to let anyone talk me out of going.
Alternate Chapter 1:Cordelia’s POV
Lucy was hanging around the hotel lobby like she always did on the day the mail stage came through, pretending to be working while sending me dirty looks, thinking they would make me sort the correspondence faster. I always gave her the letter from our brother Ambrose as soon as I spied it, but because I didn’t make it a priority and fish it out of the pile first thing, Lucy spent every mail day madder at me than usual.
I sorted all the letters and put them in the appropriate boxes behind the check-in desk for pickup; none were from Ambrose. Lucy gave me one of her sideways looks, a look that said she thought I was keeping the letter from her on purpose. In a minute, she would be marching across the room demanding to know where her mail was.
I met her eyes and shrugged, turning my palms up and shaking my head as I reached for the small, half-inch thick parcel I had put to one side, thinking it would be easy to hand over if anyone called for it while I was sorting the other mail. When I saw it was addressed to Lucy, I knew she would think I kept it from her on purpose, that somehow I was jealous because Ambrose wrote directly to her. After all, I was only his half-sister.
I held the package out to her. “For you, Lucy. From Ambrose.”
She dropped the duster and raced across the room. “It took you long enough.” She ripped the package from my hand and tore at the wrapping. Something thudded to the floor.
She stooped to pick it up. “A twenty dollar gold piece!” Her eyes widened in excitement as she scanned the letter. “Pa wants me home!” Her voice was filled with pure joy.
At last, Lucy had gotten what she dearly wanted. Somehow, four years of separation had allowed her to forget what a mean man her father was.
I have been trying to insert my first poll in this blog post and am having issues with the technology. If a poll does not open correctly below, please make a comment and let me know which point of view you would choose to begin the second book in the Pierce Family Saga: Lucy’s or Cordelia’s. Thank you for your vote.
Okay, so it’s not the Old West, but this picture of a stagecoach taken at Wichita’s Cowtown is the best I have.
Question: “What do stagecoaches have to do with NaNoWriMo word statistics?
Answer: I did what NaNo writers are advised not to do. Research.
While zipping toward my word count last week, I became obsessed with the size of Old West stagecoaches and what they would hold. Cordelia, one of my main characters, is heading to Denver on the Pikes Peak Express in 1859, and she has some annoying travel companions. How many? More than I had originally planned. You see, based on the western movies I have watched, I thought stage coaches had two seats. It turns out they had three. Each seat held three passengers, so the coach could hold nine. Also, up to three passengers could ride on top with the driver and shotgun guard. The amount of mail and other freight packed into and on top of the coach often left passengers scrunched against each other, making Cordelia’s approximate twelve-day ride from eastern Kansas to Denver uncomfortable to say the least. If you are interested in learning more about stagecoaches and what it was like to ride in one, check out History of the Stagecoach and Stagecoach Service in the 1860s. As a bonus, check out this map of nineteenth century Kansas trails, which includes the Express route through Kansas Territory in 1859-1860.
Question: So what about your NaNo statistics?
Answer: I’m proud to say that I’m keeping up with the daily word count. I’m actually a little ahead with 20,523 words as of this morning.
Question: Weren’t you taking two online courses at the same time? What about those?
Answer: I’m keeping up with the fiction MOOC, refining scenes from my NaNo novel for my assignments. When it comes to Blogging 201, I’m still at the starting gate. However, I am down to the last lesson in the MOOC, so I’m planning to spend the end of this week making blog improvements.
I’ve made some changes to Justin’s life as I imagined it in my previous post. The great thing about filling out character profiles is that changes are easy to make. If you make up lives as you write the novel, there are dozens of places background facts are tucked in that have to be ferreted out in case of a change of mind (the author’s). I am using a standard character sheet that begins with personal, professional and story goals, and then goes into physical appearance. From there, important childhood events are listed along with the size of the family and the character’s place in it. Religion, education, best friends and worst enemies are some of the other details to fill in. Most of the information will never make it into the novel, but it is necessary to know what motivates the character and have ready those tiny pieces of life that can be used to evoke the reader’s emotions and empathy.
As I began filling out Justin’s biographical information, I realized 43 was too old for his current age. Somehow, I had messed up on my math. (That math thing is why I became an English teacher.) Justin is now 40. He was born in 1819 in Illinois. I also decided that being the son of a soldier wouldn’t work because in Book 1 of the series, he is uneducated, which would not have been the case for a soldier’s son living at a fort. Instead, Justin is the oldest son of a farmer and his wife. He has three younger siblings: a brother and two sisters. His father dies when he is seven, leaving his mother to support four children by sewing and doing laundry. She barely makes enough to feed them, so something must be done.
When Justin is eight, his mother learns of a farmer a few miles away who needs help. She signs papers making Justin an indentured servant. He is to work for the farmer, Ezekial Boggs, until he is eighteen. In return for Justin’s work, he will receive room, board, education, and farming knowledge. It turns out the room and board is meager and the education non-existent. He does learn farming, something he grows to hate.
His mother visits Justin only twice in the year following his indenture to Boggs. The first time, she says she has come to make sure he is being treated well and adjusting to life with the farmer. She stays only a few minutes. The second time she comes, she tells him she is remarrying and going to California with her new husband. They are taking his brother and sisters, but since he is bound to Boggs as a servant, he cannot come with them. It is the last time he hears from her or his brother and sisters. When he was first bound to the farmer, he had felt some pride at being able to relief the hunger of his younger siblings by working elsewhere. When his mother leaves him behind to move to California, he feels loss that turns to resentment as years go by with no word from her or anyone in his family. Mixed with the resentment is the feeling of somehow not being worthy of love, a feeling that affects all future relationships.
At 16, Justin runs away. The year is 1835, and he has heard trappers are making piles of money and wants his share. Little does he know that the heyday of the fur trade is almost over.
Who is next?
Now that I know something of Justin’s background, I will leave these facts to stew around. In the next post, I’ll explore one of the three other major characters in For Want of a Father: Cordelia (Justin’s biological daughter), Hiram Pierce (Cordelia’s stepfather), or Lucy Pierce (Hiram’s biological daughter). I’m not sure which one at this point.
What else would you like to know about Justin Quinn?
You can help me develop Justin’s character with your questions and comments. Please ask, and I will answer in an upcoming blog post.
I know a few things about Justin Quinn from Book 1 of the Pierce Family Saga (coming out on October 20). He was thirty-nine years old in 1855, so when Book 2 begins, he will be forty-three. He has a two-inch scar on the left side of his face as the result of an argument over a card game. He is Irish, six feet tall, and has red hair and green eyes. He is Cordelia’s biological father, and he deserted her mother, Minerva, before the woman knew she was pregnant. He was a fur trapper and trader when he met Minerva but has likely changed professions since the decline of the fur trade.
How are you feeling about Justin so far? Interested or not so much? Is he a hero or a villain? Hard to tell. We know some physical details and a few actions but there isn’t much in what I’ve told you to capture emotions or imagination.
How about this? Near the end of Book 1, Cordelia asks Aunt Hannah if her father knew about her. The answer: He could have figured it out if he’d wanted to. So now, we really have to dig in to Justin’s character. Did he want to know? Why or why not? Did he figure it out when Cordelia was a baby? Did he never figure it out but was told years later when he met someone? Does he not know until Cordelia is on his doorstep–if he has a doorstep? How does he react when his seventeen-year-old daughter finds him? But wait? Does he find her instead? Which course of action will produce the best story? There are so many decisions to make, and many of them will come out of what happened in Justin’s own childhood since those experiences will have shaped his morality and thoughts about what it means to be a father.
Currently, I am considering having Justin’s father be a military person, perhaps stationed at some fort on the frontier, at least near the time when he would have left home at the age of seventeen or eighteen. I am currently reading Children of the Western Plains: The Nineteenth-Century Experience by Marilyn Irvin Holt in an effort to learn more about how children were treated at the time, information that will allow me to develop childhoods for all my major characters.
After five years, I am coming to the end of my first historical novel and find myself unwilling to let go of the characters I have created. One way to keep them going is to continue their stories in future books: a family saga.
The book title choices are down to two. Critique group members and friends have helped me locate errors my eyes couldn’t find on their own.The book has been formatted for paperback. My friend and writing buddy, B.J Myrick, is working on a cover. I have uploaded the book and ordered four proof copies for additional beta readers. Those copies should arrive by September 2. The target date for publication is October 20, 2015.
My publication plan is a book a year. The purpose of this blog is to help me stay on task and to keep readers up to date on what is happening behind the scenes of a saga in progress. Here are some of the post categories you will see in the coming weeks:
Character: backstories and motivations
Each novel will focus on two to four members of the fictional Pierce family. Although there will be some similarity in the characters backstories, each will view events through their own personalities and experiences. In addition, not everything that happens can be shown in the book. Decisions have to be made about what goes in and what doesn’t.
Setting: time and place
The first novel is set in Kansas Territory, 1855. The second novel will take place in 1859 and cover a much larger area of the American West. Besides historical people, places, and events, I will be researching customs, clothing, language, travel options, jobs, and much more. I’ll be posting research sources and book reviews for those of you who want to know more about the time period.
When a person spends days and weeks researching a topic, how much should be included in the actual novel? How many point of view characters can be used before readers are confused? What technique will be used to move from one character’s point of view to another? These are some of the questions I will explore as they come up during the writing process.
This blog, like the family saga, is very much a work in progress. At this moment, the blog is bare. It’s like moving into a new house. I’m not quite sure what furniture (widgets) I need or where to put them. If you have suggestions, leave a comment. If you want to follow the behind the scenes development of a series, please subscribe.